The Words of the Seo Family

Loving my Japanese In-laws

Bok Im Seo
April 2014
Ninth District Church in Japan

Bok Im Seo and her two children, whom she raised alone in a nation not her own after her husband's sudden death.

After living in Japan for twenty years, I was selected as a model mother, model family, by the Osaka branch of the Mother-Child Welfare Organization and will be receiving a certificate on February 9 during their general meeting. This came about after leader of the Osaka branch of the Mother-Child Welfare Organization, which I am affiliated with, recommended me, saying, "I came from Fukushima when I got married, and even though I am Japanese, I experienced tremendous difficulty to the point of depression from not understanding the local expressions and customs. You have come from abroad, lost your husband soon afterward, cared for and raised your two young children while taking care of your parents-in-law. How immense must your suffering have been! I would like to console you and speak well of your life."

This is actually not the first time I have received a commendation from a Japanese organization. Last April, I received a citation from the Mother-Child Welfare Organization in the city of Kadoma, where I live; and in Jul', I received another citation from the chairman of the board of the Mother-Child Welfare Organization in the city of Osaka.

Two years ago, I received an award for excellence, the third Mindan Cultural Award, in the filial piety category, based on the experiences I contributed. The upcoming award, however, is quite special as I was assessed by the local government itself and was chosen as an awardee by them. I hope that it becomes of some comfort to our True Parents who have suffered until now.

My Matching Experience

I was one of those people who hated Japan. However the 6,500-Couple Blessing Ceremony conducted in 1988, included mostly couples of Korean grooms with Japanese brides and Japanese grooms with Korean brides. Even though I was thinking of leaving everything in True Parents' hands, my body kept moving toward the back of the lines, trying to avoid getting blessed to a Japanese brother. True Father then nonchalantly said, 'Those who have graduated university, come forward." Without much choice left, t moved to the front and the photograph True Father received at that particular moment was my husband's.

My husband was an only son, born and raised as a second-generation member of Tenrikyo in a family that believed in Tenriism. He was extremely self-righteous and acted in a very Spartan way. Even though he was quite humorous and fun to be with, he was also very strict, questioning my every single act and giving me long lectures. This would also happen when we talked by telephone internationally. Whenever we had the opportunity to actually meet, he would at time talk about the Divine Principle for the entire night. Of course, we also fought a lot.

I arrived in Japan in July 1993. Upon my arrival, my husband said I lacked training and made me visit every single condominium in the neighborhood. After coming back from work a t night, he would get the names of those people I visited that day and would sometimes pay them another visit. This training continued from the time I arrived to the time he left for the spiritual world -- a year and ten months later.

Loss and Bereavement

We lived with our parents-in-law from the very beginning. My in-laws had completely dedicated their lives to Tenriism and the only possession they had was the house that was bequeathed to them by my husband's grandfather. My parents-in-law both received pensions but the amount was more or less like pocket money As a result, they had many financial difficulties. My husband would often laugh at this situation and tell me, "Try to live on only 1,000 yen this week!"

My husband and I often talked about the Divine Principle and True Father's teachings late into the night. Among the things he said, I still clearly remember, "A central figure must always be able to postulate and prepare for the worst scenario. Only by doing so, can the central figure handle any kind of circumstance," and "Even if man were to become perfect by 99.9999 percent. Satan can always come in through the imperfection gap of 0.0001 percent. That is why one must always be humble, etc." Those were strict words in- deed. Yet, those quotations became like a guide in my life after he left for the spiritual world. Looking back, I feel that God already knew what kind of life I would lead and had strictly trained me through my husband.

On May 5, 1995, at 11:00 am, my husband suddenly fainted and was rushed to a hospital by ambulance. It never occurred to me that this would be his last moments. He was moved to a hospital and immediately underwent an operation. However, blood had already spread throughout his brain as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage and he fell into a coma. He remained in this state for eight days and then went to the spiritual world.

I was completely devastated by the unbelievable and impossible reality in front of me. His Sunghwa Ceremony and the process of putting everything in order felt as though everyone were putting me in the center and taking turns slapping me in the face. Everything seemed to have paused -- I wasn't conscious of what was happening around me, whether it was day or night, what month or day it was or even who I was. However, I had to confront reality. When I came to my senses in the face of the grim reality ahead, I had become the guardian of my parents-in-law and my two young children.

Mother and children with the children's paternal grandmother, who struggled with her daughter-in-law but eventually praised and loved her.

Regaining My Footing

I calmed myself. The first thing I did was start working part-time in a restaurant near my house for a living. Even though had completed university and had worked at the Segye Times for over six years as a journalist in Korea, this was Japan. My Japanese language skills were worse than a kindergartener and I was simply a foreigner and a stranger that didn't know anything about Japanese customs and culture. I took notes of the headlines in the newspaper every day and whenever I had some free time, I would use it to ask questions about the articles to my co-workers at the restaurant and did my best to learn the language. At night, I attended a driving school and could obtain a regular driver's license.

After having breakfast, I would put my one-year-old and two-year-old children on the front and back seat of my bicycle and drop them at a nursery school on my way to the restaurant. I worked in a standing position for nine hours at the restaurant and would then have to rush to the nursery school, pick my children up and go home. This was my daily routine.

Facing uncertainty, I was filled with insecurity over the future, over not knowing when this lifestyle would come to an end and over fear that I may suddenly die as my husband had. Concerned about what would happen to my children if this were to happen and other worries, I was daily filled with tension, emotional burdens and financial burdens. I felt lost, not at knowing how to handle things. I was worn out and lonely. I developed an ulcer that I suffered from for five years.

The family was also in a mess. My father-in-law, who had followed Tenriism here and there with no concern about the house, possessed nothing financially and socially. Furthermore, his relationship with those within the village association and even his siblings was bad.

As a result, my mother-in-law had to work alone to take care of the family even though she was physically weak. Her son had been more or less the only hope in her life. To see her son go to the spiritual world at the early age of thirty-two, she could not avoid the thought that her son had been taken away from her by the Unification Church and a Korean woman. The relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is known to be difficult. In our case, my mother-in-law was Japanese and I was Korean and an Unificationist on top of that, making matters even worse. Every single day was a battle.

The Temptation Not to Return

The only joy I had in those days was when I visited my hometown in Korea once a year. I would visit the Chung Pyung Heaven and Earth Training Center on my way to my hometown. Those were the only places I could truly breathe. Whenever I returned to my hometown, the only thing I could do was eat and sleep, eat and sleep, probably because I could finally relax from the overwhelming tension. It felt as though all strength had drained from my body and I could not rise at all.

After spending those joyful days, as time for my return to Japan neared, I would automatically become tense and my face would begin to harden. I would start praying to God, "Father, do I really have to return? Can I not go?" and cling to God like a young child. I prayed to God until the airport limousine arrived at the last stop, but every time, God did not answer. As always, I would say, "I will work hard one more time." With this determination, I would hold my tears back and take heavy steps.

In the midst of such a life, I prayed to God, "Father, I will put our household in order for ten years. However, please allow me to work with something connected to the providence after these ten years." A year after my father-in-law passed away, in 2005, I started doing office work at Mindan, a group of Korean residents living in Japan. I prayed to God that he let me work in a group connected with the providence and it truly happened.

My Mother-In-Law's Resistance

My mother-in-law passed away in June 2009. She lost both parents at the age of seven and could not express her true emotions throughout her life. When my father-in-law passed away, her face started brightening. By the time she left for the spiritual world, her face was filled with laughter and was at its most beautiful.

Many things happened with my mother-in-law while she was alive. She was always a source of worry and pain to me. That is how difficult our relationship was Conflicts between the two of us started in earnest three months after my husband passed away. My mother-in-law told me, "I will put the children in our family register; you can either go back to Korea or marry someone else."

Her only son had been her solace in life; after he passed away, she started pouring out on me all the resentment she had felt until then. She seemed to be blaming me for everything including my husband joining the Unification Church despite his parents' opposition, his marrying a Korean woman and leaving the world at an early age.

One day, while arguing with my mother-in-law, I told her, "You must experience not only the love of your grandchildren but also that of your daughter-in-law. You cannot pass away until you truly come to understand what peace and happiness in the family is. You cannot pass away without my permission." When my mother-in-law heard this, she cried a lot.

It was not easy for my mother-in-law to change. Whenever something occurred, she would say, "Get out of this house!" Whenever that happened, I would say "I am the only one who can take care of both of you." She would reply, "I won't ask you to take care of us, so don't say anything further. Just leave!" This caused me to consider leaving the house on several occasions. At times, I actually did prepare to leave.

When I first prepared to move out of the house, my husband appeared to me in a dream. In that dream, we both made preparations to move to another place. Once we finished the preparations, my husband, who had his back to me, asked me at the very last moment, "Do you really have to move out?" The dream was so vivid that I gave up moving out of the house at that time.

On another occasion, while planning to move out of the house, my daughter asked me, "Mom, who will take care of grandpa and grandma if they get sick?" I changed my mind after that.

My mother-in-law had to undergo cataract surgery in 2001. I took her to the hospital and took care of all the procedures needed for her hospitalization. She stopped telling me to get out of the house after that. I think that is when I started gaining her trust.

When my father-in-law passed away, my mother-in-law suddenly looked grim. Later, she told me that she felt we might all go away and leave her alone. I told her, "Where would I go without you? Mother, can you live without me and the children?" She replied, "I can't live without any of you." I still vividly remember how we held hands and cried.

Just before she passed away, I remember taking her to a hospital by car and hearing her say, "My life has been a happy one thanks to you. In the beginning, we misunderstood each other and fought a lot because we didn't know each other that well. My life has been a truly happy one. Thank you!" You cannot imagine how much I cried after hearing such unexpected words from her. While conducting her Sunghwa Ceremony, I spiritually felt her presence and her telling me, "I am happy. So don't cry -- smile!"

Every single moment in the past was actually so miserable that I do not want to reminisce, but not because I feel resentful or angry. Those were times God fought with me, cried for me and comforted me. There were many such occasions for which I am deeply grateful. Once, I had a dream in which Dae Mo Nim appeared and connected me with my husband, in the spiritual world, via telephone. On another occasion, my father-in-law spiritually appeared to me and we did morning Hoon Dok Hae together. You cannot imagine how often True Parents appeared in my dreams and even in reality with a broad smile, comforting me and saying, "You have worked hard." I feel I am truly a happy person because of the great love I could experience through those hard times.

My two young children have now grown; my daughter is in her third year of university and is studying to become a teacher. My son, my second child, is now preparing for his university entrance examination. 

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